Title tattle: Anyone else notice those fresh For Sale signs at the property occupied by the long-vacant Gerland’s Food Fair building, 2402 45th St. on the island?
After 15 years and much legal work, title to the Gerland’s property has been cleared, reports Michael Martini, one of the owners. That’s no small feat considering sale of the property, which many neighbors and city officials consider an eyesore, has long been hindered by ownership disputes. At one point, 23 people claimed ownership. That number last month was whittled down to three, Martini said.
“They’re three legit owners; they’re for real,” Martini said.
Clearing the title was a significant change, making a sale, theoretically, less complicated. While there’s long been buyer interest in the property, potential sales have fizzled because of title issues.
Dallas-based Provident Realty Advisors is sizing up the site for development of town houses, both Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough and Martini confirmed.
Originally, Provident Realty pitched low- to moderate-income housing at the site, Yarbrough said.
But Yarbrough and other city officials are discouraging development of low-income housing there, informing Provident the city wouldn’t incentivize such a project because other island housing developments are meeting that demand.
But the city would consider incentivizing town houses, patio homes or senior housing, Yarbrough said. The city is highly motivated to see the property redeveloped.
Sale of the property isn’t final. Martini is reviewing the contract and hasn’t signed any documents, he said last week.
The privately held Provident Realty Advisors, founded in 1991, has developed or invested in more than $3 billion worth of real estate projects, the company said. Those include land investments, anchored retail centers, repositioning of outdated malls, apartments, master-planned communities and more. Stay tuned.
Straight up: But while Martini has cleared up title issues with the Gerland’s property, he’s only just begun trying to clear up murky title issues with another much-scrutinized Martini building — the Martini Theatre, 21st and Church streets in the island’s downtown. And when it comes to that property, Martini isn’t necessarily a motivated seller.
Martini didn’t want to begin clearing the Martini Theatre building title until ownership of the Gerland’s building was resolved, he said. Martini said he didn’t think it would take near as long to resolve title issues at the Martini Theatre.
“I have a better lawyer,” he said.
Martini said he has roughly 88 percent ownership of the building.
Both Yarbrough and Martini confirmed a developer, whose identity wasn’t immediately available, is toying with the idea of transforming the Martini Theatre into a boutique hotel with a high-end restaurant.
Islanders have long wanted to see redevelopment of the art deco style theater building, built in 1937. The Martini family at one time owned eight island movie theaters, among many other real estate holdings. The movie theater empire faded with the advent of TV. The Martini Theatre closed in 1975.
The Martini Theatre building, surrounded by renovated and repurposed historic structures, isn’t a protected landmark under the city’s preservation ordinance. The building had long been entangled in complicated Martini family ownership issues.
Michael Martini has in recent months been improving the former 990-seat theater, with plans to restore the marquee. Crews also have been renovating the 2,000-square-foot strip center that’s part of the theater, generating buzz and developer interest.
Although a developer is interested in transforming the property into a small, stylish hotel and a high-end restaurant, Martini has another vision — a sports museum showcasing Texas athletes and honoring his late sister, Anita Martini, a pioneering journalist.
Anita Martini, who died of cancer at age 54 in 1993, rose to fame as the first female broadcaster to cover a Major League Baseball All-Star Game, which she did in 1973, and as the first female broadcaster to be allowed into a men’s locker room, in 1974, when the Houston Astros played the Los Angeles Dodgers at the Astrodome.
“I think everybody would love that,” Michael Martini said. “I know how much Anita loved the island and how much she loved sports. That, to me, would be more important than putting money in my pocket — doing something for Anita.” Stay tuned.
Steak out: Inquiring readers are hungry for opening-day news about Vargas Cut & Catch by Paco, a downtown restaurant that replaces bar 21 with plans to serve steaks and seafood. Juan and Denise Vargas and their father, Paco Vargas, are behind the much-awaited concept. Members of the Vargas family couldn’t be reached for comment. But Juan Vargas on social media recently promised a mid-November opening. The new venture will mark a second restaurant for the Vargas family in the island’s downtown. Paco Vargas owns the highly successful restaurant Rudy & Paco, 2028 Postoffice St.
Deep dish: Many restaurants, particularly independent establishments, fail during their first year because they’re undercapitalized and unprepared, according to studies published by the National Restaurant Association. So it’s not small accomplishment that Mario’s Seawall Italian Restaurant, 628 Seawall Blvd. in Galveston, is marking 45 years. And much has changed in the island’s restaurant scene since Anthony and Nilde Smecca opened what was then Mario’s Flying Pizza in 1973, said their son Johnny Smecca, who, with his brother Joey Smecca, has carried on the family tradition.
When the Smeccas opened the restaurant, there weren’t a whole lot of dining choices in Galveston compared with today, Johnny Smecca said. While the restaurant has continued to evolve over the years to offer many Italian dishes, its pizza is still the most popular seller, Smecca said.
“Pizza made us, we’re not going to shy away from that,” he said.
The Smecca family enjoys meeting patrons whose parents enjoyed the restaurant years ago, he said. The restaurant from the start was popular with University of Texas Medical Branch students, he said.
“Their kids come back here and say ‘My parents came here when they were at UTMB; this is where they remember pizza and pitchers of beer,’” Smecca said.
The restaurant is known for marking major milestones by raising money for community causes. Last week, the restaurant was host to a gathering and ribbon cutting with the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce that raised money for the Ball High School Media Arts & Digital Technology program.
Surprise closure: Unfortunately, a Kemah restaurant won’t mark even a first birthday. Bradford & Main, 501 Bradford Ave., surprised some north county residents by closing late last month. Owner Michael Brewer couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, but a woman answering phones at Brewer’s popular Main St. Bistro, 615 E. Main in League City, confirmed the Kemah closure.
Shopping spree: Another real estate firm has snapped up a large, prominent League City shopping center. Fidelis Realty Partners has acquired a portfolio of three retail properties in the Dallas and Houston markets, including the 370,000-square-foot Victory Lakes Town Center on the northeast corner Interstate 45 and FM 646, according to reports. The purchase price wasn’t immediately available. Shopping center tenants include JC Penney, Hobby Lobby and Best Buy, to name a few.
It’s apparent real estate firms consider Victory Lakes Town Center a worthy investment. In 2011, Oak Brook Ill.-based real estate investment firm Inland Real Estate Acquisitions Inc. acquired Victory Lakes Town Center from NewQuest Properties.
This is Crazy: Popular Kemah eatery Crazy Alan’s Swamp Shack is planning a Baybrook Mall site, according to a sign and its social media site.
Crazy Alan’s Swamp Shack, 310 Texas Ave. in Kemah, is known for Cajun-style seafood and live music. Look for more details in next week’s Biz Buzz.
Buzz blooper: An Oct. 21 Biz Buzz item should have said Realtor Nellie Zapata of Joe Tramonte Realty represented Mathew Baby in last year’s acquisition of the building that housed Galatex Electric, 112 19th St. in Galveston.